“Maybe I’m just this kind of person — the kind of person who connects with people fleetingly and leaves that connection open but moves on from it. From place and from time, to new and more people, to new experiences, more connections, more love. And there is nothing at all wrong with being that kind of a person. I feel more inured to that version of myself, to that kind of life, than ever before.”
It’s Friday afternoon. I’m at the provincial administrative office, referred to by most simply as jangwat. The four-story building is arranged like a big square with an open courtyard in the middle and offices only on the outward-facing side.
Me and three interns from the municipal office where I work are riding the elevator up to the top floor. I’ve been asked to keep them company while they deliver some documents. “Why am I so nervous,” I hear one of them ask herself. I ask them if they’ve ever been here before, and they all answer, “No, never.”
The elevator dings at the fourth floor and we step out of the open doors into the long hallway. One of them is reading directions off of a neon pink post-it note scribbled by her supervisor. “Go right, walk straight, it will be on your left,” I hear her say under her breath.
I’ve been to the building many times, but never to this specific office, so I follow their lead. We take a couple wrong turns and walk almost all the way around the square. “Maybe we should ask for directions,” I suggest to them. We soon discover that we passed the correct office two turns ago and start walking back the way we came.
The giddiness and excitement of being somewhere new, set on an unfamiliar errand, radiates off of them. The stakes are different for everyone, and everyone reacts differently to the situation. Nervous energy bounces between them and I try to observe their reactions. One is confident, and walks as if she knows exactly where she is going, even if she doesn’t. Another is a bit more nervous — she keeps checking the paperwork to make sure it’s right, and repeating the directions to herself. The third is more reserved, pensive. She waits to see what will happen before she reacts.
I can’t help but think about my own journey here as I follow them on their adventure. I look at them and I see us. I see a group of people with very little background knowledge being thrown into an unknown situation with vague directions and an expectation to come up with some kind of result that is not fully understood. I also see how far I have come. Here I am, taking an unfamiliar situation in stride, and feeling more at ease than the group of Thais I am with. It’s astounding to me.
Their excitement and nervousness about the newness of their situation is intoxicating. Imagined stakes that may or may not be there, trying different tactics until they get it right, desperately seeking help from anyone who may offer it, figuring out how to get along with the other members of their cohort and what roles their skills and personalities fit best — it reminds me so much of those first months in Thailand as a naive little trainee trying to run before I could crawl.
The whole day is just another opportunity for me to see how different things are now. The arc of my journey here astounds me. I imagine that I won’t fully understand it or grasp its significance for many years to come. What do I know, however, is that it has left it’s mark on me. Each person I have met and each experience I have had have left their fingerprint on my soul.
I don’t know where I will be two years from now — I can’t even begin to imagine it. Despite the fog of uncertainty, I do know that whatever happens has the capacity to have an impact on me if I let it. During my time here I have learned how to be raw, how to need, and how to take the seat of the observer. Every experience, big or small, has this same capacity to leave its mark. The length of time that I have it seems kind of irrelevant.
I’ve been thinking a lot about existentialism lately (thanks to a friend who sent me this article recently). It occurred to me as I was laying in bed reading one night how very much we care about this little world that we live in, despite our occasional attempts to convince ourselves otherwise. I lay there reading my book and realized how much I cared about this stupid, little, made-up story, and how much everything in our lives is just a made-up story. The innocence of youth permeates our entire existence.
To those existentialists who wonder whether or not life has meaning I would answer simply; of course it does, because we are here to make meaning of it.